Major initiative launches to protect our precious aquifer
A major five-year £500,000 project launches today to help safeguard the chalk aquifer of the South Downs that supplies water to 1.2m people and is under increasing threat from climate change.
The Aquifer Partnership will work to protect groundwater in the Brighton Chalk Block from pollution, as well as increase resilience to climate change and extreme weather events that can cause flooding and drought.
Led by a partnership between the South Downs National Park Authority, Brighton & Hove City Council, Southern Water, and the Environment Agency, the wide-reaching programme will work with residents, farmers, landowners, and schools across the Brighton, Hove and Lewes area to safeguard our drinking water.
It comes as there is a pressing need to tackle rising nitrate levels in groundwater that leaches into the aquifer from urban and rural sources such as road run-off and fertilisers. Over 70 per cent of Southern Water’s groundwater sources within the Brighton area have rising nitrate levels requiring either a treatment or a catchment based solution to manage concentrations. Southern Water projections also show that within their supply area in the South East a third of its water sources may be lost 25 years from now due to the impacts of climate change, while the population it serves could have grown by 15 per cent. Without action, Southern Water predicts a supply and demand deficit by 2030.
The Aquifer Partnership is a re-launch of the Brighton ChaMP for Water project, which was established in 2016 to protect and improve the quality of groundwater in the chalk landscape around Brighton. The team has already engaged with scores of farmers and land managers, as well as conducted vital research into using the power of nature to reduce pollution. This includes plant-powered drainage systems in busy urban areas and winter cover crops on fields that would normally be left bare.
TAP will now focus on delivery, with an ambitious programme designed to bring people together to care for this precious resource, including:
- Pushing for new developments to address groundwater protection and climate change resilience.
- Creating new and innovative “rainscape” projects in the Brighton, Hove and Lewes area, including in parks and at schools. These are sustainable drainage systems that use areas of vegetation to collect run-off and naturally cleanse the water so it enters the chalk aquifer in a much cleaner state.
- Working with farmers and landowners to promote groundwater-friendly interventions, such as the use of cover crops to help soak up nitrate and improve soil quality (potentially reducing nitrate leaching by 90 per cent)
- A wider urban awareness programme to promote more groundwater-friendly land management at recreation and industrial sites.
- A programme of community engagement and school workshops across the Brighton, Hove and Lewes area to raise awareness of the importance of the aquifer for future generations.
- Collaboration with equestrian facilities to include them in the wider TAP programme of sustainable manure management.
Councillor Anne Pissaridou, Chair of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee at Brighton & Hove City Council, said: “The Aquifer is a hidden treasure and we’re lucky that we can rely on it for our water supply. It performs an important and often unrecognised service for the city.
“There are more than 24 different pollutants typically identified in road run-off. Rainscapes have the potential to remove 80 per cent of these pollutants compared to traditional drainage systems, by slowing the flow and cleaning the water using natural methods, including time, sunlight, vegetation and soil microbes. They help manage surface water to reduce flooding, as well as promoting biodiversity and improving the attractiveness and community value of the area.
“The Aquifer Partnership’s work in conjunction with farmers and land managers will help to ensure both the availability and quality of water in the face of climate change. Climate adaptation and resilience is central to the 10-year plan we are developing as part of the Carbon Neutral 2030 programme and will help our residents, communities and economy to be more resilient to the future impacts of extreme weather events, while protecting and enhancing our environment.”
Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “Today marks the start of an ambitious programme that will put the Brighton aquifer well and truly on the map as a vital natural resource. From towns to Downs we all rely on it – now, next year, in the next decade and in the next century. We’ll always need it and this is why the launch of The Aquifer Partnership today is so incredibly important.
“We know the challenge of climate change will require considerable innovation and no single organisation can tackle it alone. TAP represents the future of how climate change mitigation will be delivered, bringing together expertise from a wide field. This partnership works in tandem with the National Park’s priorities to protect our ‘eco-system’ services, improve soil quality, and create nature recovery networks, as well as working towards the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan for a green future.”
Ian McAulay, Chief Executive of Southern Water, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be part of The Aquifer Partnership, working collaboratively with other key partners to safeguard an aquifer that supplies water to 1.2 million people. This work is part of our Catchment First programme, an innovative approach to improving the environment, working on sustainable solutions that meet the long term needs of everyone and everything that relies on water. By 2020, we’ll have invested £27 million in projects to work with others to improve the quality and quantity of water in our environment in the south east. By 2025, it’ll be a further £49 million.”
Catherine Fuller, Environment, Programme and Engagement Manager at the Environment Agency, said: “TAP is a fantastic initiative which provides a great opportunity to realise one of our long term aims to provide clean and plentiful water for people, wildlife and nature in the Brighton and Lewes area.
“Businesses, the public sector, schools, farmers and landowners can all come together to address a very important environmental issue.
“Currently too many polluting substances like nitrates are present in our aquifers. The same aquifers which supply the public with drinking water, feed our streams and rivers and help shape our landscape.”
Funding for TAP will be contributed equally between the four partner organisations and spread over the next five years.
For more information on TAP visit www.wearetap.org.uk